Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Urawa Preview


In the last two J1 matches Omiya coach Jun Suzuki has brought about two significant changes to his struggling team's line-up and the rewards have been fairly instant. For the home game against Cerezo Osaka ten days ago Suzuki introduced a 4-5-1 system with Rafael as the main striker and wide player Jun Kanakubo re-introduced in midfield. Omiya managed a goalless draw against the inconsistent Cherries but followed that up at the weekend with one of the season's best results so far, a 3-1 triumph in the so-called Noda Line derby at title-challenging Kashiwa Reysol.

It was Rafael who starred in the Reysol game, lashing in a volley after a half-cleared Kanakubo corner to give the Squirrels an early lead and then brilliantly combining with Keigo Higashi to make it 2-0. Things weren't exactly perfect - for the Kashiwa goal, how could the Ardija defence have believed it a good idea to give so much space in the penalty area to Leandro Domingues, one the J1 players of the year - but a Takashi Kitano penalty save and a Rafael-would-have-killed-him-if-he'd-missed-it clincher by Takuya Aoki rounded things off extremely well for Suzuki's team.

And with those three points Omiya overtook both Albirex Niigata and Urawa Reds in the battle to avoid getting pulled into the relegation zone. Since then there's been some slightly hysterical talk about Wednesday's Nabisco Cup opponents Urawa going down, which while obviously a possibility neglects to take account of twin facts, (a) that Ventforet Kofu are still a couple of points off the pace and, (b) that Albirex's inferior goal difference provides Reds with an additional buffer zone. I mean, we'll see, but come on - twin fact (c) is that it's the end of September and nothing whatsoever is decided.  

In the midst of all this excitement it's been easy enough to forget that there's a Saitama derby at NACK5 this evening, as Urawa come to Omiya with a 2-0 first leg advantage in the Nabisco Cup Second Round. What with the lack of a group stage this year, it's a tournament that in 2011 seems to have had an even lower profile than normal and Ardija's priorities will inevitably be to finish as high as they can in the league. Further playing time for Kanakubo and of course GGOA favourite Naoki Ishihara would go some way to providing meaning to the match ahead of the J1 run-in, as well as offering some kind of lifeline back into the tie. Go Squirrels!

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